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Sutton theatres close amid financial crisis

Secombe Theatre was threatened with closure by the council, which used to manage the venue. Photo: AB Monblat The Secombe Theatre in Sutton, south London. Photo: AB Monblat
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Two theatres in Sutton have closed after the company running them went into administration.

The closures of the Secombe Theatre and Charles Cryer Studio in south London come just days after a string of planned comedy shows were pulled over a financial dispute.

As a result, four staff have been made redundant at Sutton Theatres Trust, which has gone into administration.

Administrators Herron Fisher said audience attendances had doubled at the council-owned theatres since the trust took over their management in January 2015, but that this “still proved too low to continue operating”.

A buyer for the trust – which is in fact a company, not a charitable trust – is now being sought by administrators.

Herron Fisher revealed there was “no more money” to invest in Sutton Theatres Trust, and “no prospect” for a sale of the business outside of an insolvency process.

It continued: “In the past three months, the trust also sought extra funding from private donors and European funding bodies in order to continue running the theatres.

“Unfortunately, it became apparent that this wasn’t possible without any local support.”

Comedians Josh Widdicombe, Seann Walsh, Shappi Khorsandi, Marcus Brigstocke and Jeremy Hardy had all been scheduled to appear at the venues between now and December.

But their agency, Off the Kerb Productions, pulled all five shows earlier this week, claiming the theatre owed them £3,432 for an earlier appearance in May by comedian Mark Steel.

The agency’s financial manager Ann Kennedy told the Sutton Guardian on August 11 that the Sutton Theatres Trust was not responding to attempts to contact it.

“I feel that there is something wrong here and another theatre company I have spoken to have also not received any payment for shows that took place in February,” she said.

“We have done our best to bring top-quality performances to the area, but due to the financial instability of the company none of our acts will be going ahead,” she added.

In the same article, the theatres’ executive director Beri Juraic denied the company had financial issues, and accused Off the Kerb of “using local media instead of direct lines of communications as a way of resolving an internal dispute”.

“This is a crass and unedifying way to conduct business and certainly not one we wish to join them in,” he added.

Reacting to the news, a spokesman for Sutton Council said: “Sutton Theatres Trust took control of the Secombe and Charles Cryer venues from Sutton Council in July 2015. The council completed all necessary due diligence and worked with the Trust throughout the transfer on lease and legal matters.

“The council is disappointed to learn the Trust has gone into administration. As the freeholder of both the Secombe and Cryer theatres the council will now work to ensure the obligations of the leasehold agreement are met.”

Ticket holders for shows at the two theatres are being advised to make a refund claim to the administrators.

At the time of publication, no one from Sutton Theatres was available for comment.

Sutton Theatres: a timeline

August 2014: Sutton Council in south London announces plans to close the Secombe Theatre and Charles Cryer Studio as part of £40 million in spending cuts.

September 2014: The Theatres Trust places both venues on the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register.

October 2014: The council calls on bidders to take over management of the two venues, claiming the theatres would have to close if there are no viable bids.

January 2015: Sutton Theatres Trust, founded by producer Beri Juraic and actor and director Micha Colombo, takes over operation of the theatres.

July 2015: The theatres’ first season after being taken over is announced, and is due to open with a new short opera in October 2015. Plans are also unveiled for a new 120-seat performance space in the Secombe Theatre, which would focus on new work, cabaret and live music.

September 2015: Sutton Theatres Trust postpones its new opera indefinitely, after much of the show’s budget is spent on building maintenance work. However, other shows continue to go ahead at both venues.

August 2016: Sutton Theatres Trust goes into administration, following accusations from comedy agency Off the Kerb that it was owed money.

This story was updated on August 15 to include a response from Sutton Council, which owns the theatres

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